What I Have Learned So Far; 15 Steps to Love

Accepting complete responsibility for personal happiness, wellbeing and wellness is definitely the first step towards long term love. Thus, over the years I have developed insights that should greatly enhance the probability of being part of a formidable partnership with a compatible partner. For instance, one of the most beneficial practises has been gained through the art of meditation. This contemplative practise has proved to be of great value in increasing self awareness and that of others. Meditation allows for deeper awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours and how these emerge. Negative emotions are harmful to health and should therefore not be indulged in. In this contemplative process I have found the psychology book, “The Road Less Travelled” by Scott Peck to be particularly useful with its focus on the importance of discipline which enables us to identify and solve problems constructively. Reading this book feels like having a therapy session with a kind and thoughtful psychologist. My greatest insight from the book has been to think deeply about defining what love is, what it is not and how to work smarter on becoming and blossoming into a more loving and loveable person. This is because it is far more productive to focus on becoming more loving than whether or not other people are loveable. Giving credence to the expression that it is in giving that we receive. Scott defines Love as “the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Love is therefore an act of self-evolution , a unitary process where self love eventually leads to loving others. It is also an activity that requires effort and the will to translate desire into effortful action. However, the desire to love is itself not love. Love is as love does. Love is an act of will. Namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love, we choose to love. Genuine love is therefore volitional rather than emotional.” A couple of years ago, I was reading the ” How New Forms of Love Have Been Invented” chapter in Zeldins ” A brief History of Humanity” one night before going to sleep. I almost felt like a trespasser reading about romantic love. Even just thinking about it made me feel like I was indulging in some sort of hidden, forbidden luxury. Which I know sounds like an odd thing to say. Does it not? After all we were not living in a war zone. Were we?

The author’s makes the point that there are different ways of conceiving this illusive feeling which we call love. He illustrates including the perspectives of poets from Basra and Bhagdad. As you all know, since the time of his writing both of these places were transformed into war zones. Which makes me wonder how many poets living there are now writing about love. Or the impact that war has had on how love manifests itself to both victims and perpetrators. Can one be both a soldier and a poet? I suppose it would depend on which side you are on. Living in a Buddhist environment definitely puts love in a completely different dimension. We are encouraged not to believe so much in our feelings. Not to attach to them. Not to identify with them because they are impermanent. A feeling is simply just that. A feeling. Nothing more and nothing less. The Buddhist concepts of annica ( impermanence) and annata (not self) were particularly useful in understanding the changing and superficial nature of fickle feelings like those of aversion and attraction. Of course it is debatable whether or not love is in fact just a feeling. At the Monastery, one was constantly reminded that love is not something that mysteriously happens to us or that we just fall blindly into contrary to popular opinion. It is something that we have to deliberately and consciously cultivate in our hearts so that our everyday actions are motivated by a desire not to necessarily receive but to also give. Probably one of the best quotes I have read recently regarding love and which reflects my own thinking has been written by a Thai Buddhist Monk who writes that:

“If we reflect upon the impermanence and uncertainty of our lives together, it should be easier for us to let go of mutual annoyance and to forgive each other instead of bickering over unimportant matters. All those pointless arguments and huffs and sulks are a sad waste of time for people whose time together is limited. Reflecting on the fragility of life and impermanence makes our love more intelligent and gives it the protection of wisdom”. ( Ajahn Jayasaro, ( Jan, 2010) ” Love”).

Step 1. Believe in and harness the power of positive thinking :

The perception that it is possible to be happy or wealthy puts us firmly in control of our destiny and that it is therefore possible to create positive changes. Having a positive attitude must also include being positive about the people and the opportunities that we encounter on a day to day basis. It is painful to admit this but too often, love and happiness may pass us by simply because we have become oblivious or distracted. This can then lead to a lack of openness to love or lead to destructive relationships partly because of prejudice, self-centredness or a lack of confidence. It is also important to maintain and project a positive image or impression of ourselves particularly to complete strangers. Feelings of unworthiness can make a person project an image which is not at all loveable or even likeable to other people.

Therefore, focus on what you have rather than what you haven’t got. Bee present. Do the best that you can with whatever available resources which are at your disposal and appreciate the people in your life. It’s the best anyone can do. Use what you’ve got to do the best you can, wherever you are. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence and it is thus a waste of time to ponder and wonder if it maybe. So, bloom where you are planted.

Step 2. On dates: It is of great importance to ensure that you are at your best possible form. It is therefore advisable to make the greatest possible effort so that you are looking your best and feeling good about yourself. If you are not happy within yourself it is highly likely that you’ll only project negative feelings or inadequacy on to your date. It is not fair to offload this kind of personal insecurity on to another person.

Step 3. Curiosity is key. Knowledge is power.
When someone feels comfortable enough to share personal and intimate information with you, it is useful to reciprocate by taking an enthusiastic interest and believing what they say about themselves. When you are genuinely curious, you are not judging. You are enquiring with an open mind. Therefore, refrain from making hasty character judgements too early on because when we judge people too soon we have no time to genuinely love them. “If you stop investing with “selfness” the mind loses its compulsive quality, which basically is the compulsion to judge, that then creates conflict, drama and new pain. In fact, the moment that judgement stops through acceptance of what is, you are free of the mind. You have made room for love, for joy, for peace. First you stop judging yourself; then you stop judging your partner. Eckhart Tolle on “Enlightened Relationships” in his book “The Power of Now”. So knowledge is power and also being a self-disciplined individual. This for example includes making decisions with complete awareness.

Step 4. The importance of constantly checking in with yourself and your date/partner.
How am I feeling about myself today?
How are you feeling about yourself today?
How am I feeling about you?
How are you feeling about me?

Step 5. The importance of being receptive and responsive to emotional declarations particularly those of love.

It is indeed wonderful if someone says “I Love you” or “I am in Love with you” or asks “Are You in Love with Me?” Respond. Too many delayed emotional responses are likely to create feelings of insecurity. To genuinely love another human being I have found not to be entirely straightforward. Not because I am not a loving person but because of the different perceptions with which people
hold abstracts like “ love “ and “respect”. However, I believe that it is possible to begin by practising compassion and empathy, listening without prejudice, moderating emotional responses and respecting personal beliefs and property. Consequently, when we decide to genuinely love others, it is more than likely that they will love us back too. The real challenge is to figure out how other people need to be valued and respected. For example, it would also be particularly nice if a partner gets along with my friends and family. I know its not possible to like everybody just like its not possible for everyone to like me but it would still be nice. However, even if we don’t like someone we should at least not disrespect them. Therefore, open and honest communication is the key to unlocking the mysteries of how different people define love and respect.

“Love is an activity, not a feeling. True love is not the helpless desire to possess the cherished object of one’s fervent affection; true love is the disciplined generosity we require of ourselves for the sake of another when we would rather be selfish.” Stephen L. Carter, The Emperor of Ocean Park .

However, it may be difficult to blossom into a more loving individual without first of all loving yourself. Healthy self-love should inevitably lead to increased self- esteem. We can therefore also begin by practising self love. This is because it is important to become one’s own best friend. Sometimes in our lives, we can be our own worst enemies. For instance, if we cannot even figure out and prioritise our own needs and desires, it may be practically impossible for others to do so. There is a lot of nastiness in the world so its important to take good care and to be kind to yourself and others. Respect yourself and respect other people. Quiet time is important for reflection, meditation and contemplation. As a consequence, it is important to train the mind to intelligently manage emotional responses. This is of course not possible without deep awareness. We all need other people so it is worth investing time in improving interpersonal relations.

Step 6. Insecurity can also be created by intimate references to former partners very early on in the relationship. So, better to be careful with that. However, most feelings of insecurity may actually have little to do with other people but more with our own perceptions be they real or imagined. The book “Status Anxiety” by Alain De Botton is a kind and relevant reminder, which is sympathetic and a thoroughly useful self-help book in grasping and dealing with the insecurities which affect most people regardless of their social status. Nevertheless, if someone is making you feel insecure, it is worth pointing this out to them but to own how you feel rather than blaming or accusing and making another person responsible for your feelings. This therefore means taking the stance that “ I feel insecure when you ………. “.

Step 7. Important to also be crystal clear about what you really think and precisely how you feel about each other so as to understand the basis of the relationship. Companionship is not a good enough reason. This can be provided by a friend, a good book, a pet, interest groups, clubs and societies or even by growing a plant. During this time, it should be expected that an analysis of the level of compatibility should also be determined. This is due to the fact that for instance, it may be possible that your priorities could be completely different with the potential to create a conflict of interest. At the same time, it is very likely that no matter how different the other priorities may be, that there will be at least a meeting of minds on a mutual point of interest. For instance, it could be that work could be an important aspect for you and your partner’s life and it should therefore be made a priority for the couple especially if you work together. Love should then motivate a healthy partnership that completely supports this as a joint priority.

“Emma for her part , never questioned herself to find out whether she was in love with him. Love, she believed, must come suddenly with thunder and lightning , a hurricane from on high that swoops down into your life and turns it topsy- turvy, snatches away your will power like a leaf, hurls your hear and soul into abyss.” ( Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert )

Step 8. Also, there’s actually no point for intimacy if you both think that you’re not actually good enough for each other and could do better.

Nobody likes to feel as if they are easily disposable and or replaceable. Often, there are hidden feelings of low self-esteem and unworthiness that hinder a positive outlook of the relationship or of the other person. This therefore also increases insecurity in the relationship. When we probe deeper into our own behaviour and emotional responses, we realise more and more that we too are also prone to feelings of unworthiness. Anita Roddick’s “Business as Unusual” is a well written autobiography with a good analysis and emphasis on self-esteem as a precious, life-enhancing commodity in the emancipation and empowerment of women. I like the fact that she writes about this because it is often easier to notice low self-esteem in others but not in oneself. Low self esteem exhibits itself in so many different forms. Self sabotage. Shooting oneself in the foot. Putting others down. So far, meditation has become the most useful tool for increasing my awareness of emotional responses. Unless one is self-aware, it is difficult to be aware and to genuinely care for others. Hopefully, this should also greatly enhance the capacity to make better choices and smarter decisions.

Step 9. Communicate clearly and express gratitude.

Once you have determined your feelings and thoughts about each other, it is probably better to articulate what you need, think and feel about your partner. For most of the time, there really should be a greater emphasis on what we like or what we love or what we find interesting about the other person. If you see something you like, say something about it. Do not take for granted the belief that your partner knows how you feel. Everyone needs to hear on a regular basis how much they are valued and appreciated. No one needs to hear this more from you than your partner. The power of positive thinking can also be harnessed for example through adopting the habit of regularly writing in a Gratitude Journal. Turning up the gratitude and appreciation only helps create a stronger relationship. It should also be possible to ask for what you need from your partner. This should be on a give and take basis and on the premise that it is in giving that we receive. After all, things which should be freely given such as acceptance, attention, tenderness, kindness, appreciation and affection should never be loudly or rudely demanded from other people except for perhaps by young children having temper tantrums. There is a saying that I like very much in ” Half of a Yellow Sun” by Adichie which says” May another do for you” in gratitude to someone who has been kind or generous to us. I feel that is a way of thinking that compliments the Buddhist concept of Khamma. That the present moment is another opportunity to recreate one’s good fortune for the future.

Step 10. Quality time. Activities and Conversations.
Reflect on this. It is important to be super prepared for every date (especially family meetings), conversation and phone call. Think very carefully about what it is precisely you wish to talk about and why. There is a time and place for everything. Develop a thoroughly good understanding of what the concepts of “time” and “place” mean. It is also advisable to be inclusive about and to reach a consensus regarding the details of dates and leisure activities and lso to give enough notice to facilitate adequate preparation.

Step 11. The importance of giving appropriate gifts and presents depending on the length or nature of the relationship. Timing is also important.

Step 12. Giving each other physical and emotional space is also crucial. It is not fair to be too emotionally dependent on your partner. Through improved emotional intelligence, it is possible to determine when you need to give yourself and the other person sufficient room to breathe particularly if you work or live together. Develop healthy relationships with your family and friends to maintain a well balanced personality. If we can make our relationships work with family and friends, then it is highly likely that we will also work it out and have meaningful relationships with people whom we do not know. The important thing to remember is that relationships are hard work which can only be maintained by constantly working on improving the quality of how we relate to each other. I have realised that in the past, I may not have invested in romantic relationships as much as I should have due to other commitments like study and work. However, now I am very much aware that it is exceedingly important to do so in order to achieve success in all other aspects of one’s life. Relationship breakdowns can often lead to incompetence in other areas of life. Therefore , the prevailing attitude should be, “ work to live “ rather than “ live to work “.

Step 13. Consequently, I have reached the conclusion that it is also important to develop the attitude that developing a healthy and meaningful long-term relationship should be perceived in the same way as applying for and maintaining a good job.

Step 14. The importance of responding appropriately

to life changing events and situations such as relationship breakdowns. For example, I think that it is probably true to say that in the past, I have not been sensitive enough to the “Male” condition. However, I am sincerely working on improving this. Sometimes it takes many years to determine or acknowledge the impact of traumatic events. Thus, it is important to acknowledge that receiving the love which we deserve requires hard work but we must first of all be active participants and not passive actors in reaching this goal. So for the last 8 years, I have focused on self improvement activities such as, developing an interest in nutrition, improved physical fitness, abstaining from casual relationships, stopped drinking alcohol (last 4 years), meditation, counselling, reading psychology and self-help books so that I may enhance my understanding and improve the speed and quality of my emotional responses. At the same time as a woman, I acknowledge that it is also important to practise fidelity to my feminist sensibilities which are a logical consequence of the “Female” experience. Consequently, to maintain a balanced perspective on gender relations. Therefore, it is perfectly all right to have an agenda which of course should include maintaining a successful relationship. What is required is a compatible strategy to secure desired objectives. In addition to the self-development activities mentioned above, we can also do this by making the conscious decision to create and protect your own private personal space. It is therefore incredibly important to firmly abide by, respect and own these intimate personal spaces and boundaries and to also respect those of others. Understand that it is not possible to control other people’s behaviour. However, our interpretations of and responses to other people’s actions, reactions and responses are entirely within our control.

Step 15. Money matters. It is a truth universally acknowledged that finance is one of the major reasons for relationship breakdowns. Hence, it is therefore prudent to manage your money and to discuss finances as a couple openly and honestly.

Girl Canon: 50 Essential Books About the Female Experience

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Everyone knows that, statistically at least, girls read more than boys. But the classic, canonical growing-up books, at least in American culture, tend to represent the male experience — I’m thinking On the Road, The Catcher in the Rye, everything ever written by Bret Easton Ellis or Michael Chabon — and while these are great books, suitable for boys or girls, the question remains: where are the books for girls to grow up on? Well, they’re definitely out there, if perhaps assigned less often in schools to readers of both genders. And so I propose a Girl Canon, populated by books not necessarily for girls but which investigate, address, or represent the female experience in some essential way. After the jump, 50 such books, of many — add your own favorites to the list in the comments, and keep the canon expanding.

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Think Smarter on… Starting up with Josh Kaufman

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This January we’re challenging our minds with Think Smarter month, with the help from some of our smart thinking Penguins. Read business expert and author of The First 20 Hours Josh Kaufman’s Ten Principles of Effective Learning for whatever you’re starting this January.

“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking” Voltaire 

The First Twenty Hours, Josh Kaufman (Penguin) is available now.

To help you make the most of 2015, we’re devoting this January to sharing exclusive writing from some of our biggest smart thinking authors. Sign up to the Think Smarter mailing list and you’ll get a weekly digest straight to your inbox every Saturday this month, as well as monthly newsletters throughout the rest of the year.

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30 Legendary Literary Mean Girls We Love to Hate

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There’s a special place in hell for women who refuse to support other women, right? Or, if not hell, at least a central role in a classic novel.

Yes, literature (particularly “classic” literature for and about women) loves a mean girl, an archenemy, or an undermining frenemy. This archetype is often realized as a charming blonde who’s either a snob guarding her place against interlopers, or a determined social climber herself. For every spunky heroine, she’s the foil. She’s the prissy antagonist who scorns our protagonist’s rough ways, while her nimble feet fight for their place on the rungs of a novel’s social ladder. She represents the apex of the idea that men can fight each other out in the open, but women are forced to be underhanded in their jockeying for alpha status. Her machinations make plots get thicker and tension ratchet up.

Here’s a selection of literature’s most delightfully nasty mean girls. We love to hate…

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